The exhibit is important, accurate but, regrettably, long overdue. It also fails to stress just how much the socialist left initiated and supported the eugenics campaign, not only in Germany but in Britain, the U. S. and the rest of Europe. Playwright George Bernard Shaw, English social democrat leader Sydney Webb and, in Canada, Tommy Douglas were just three influential socialists who called, for example, for the mass sterilization of the handicapped. In his Master’s thesis The Problems of the Subnormal Family, the now revered Douglas argued that the mentally and even physically disabled should be sterilized and sent to camps so as not to “infect” the rest of the population.
It is deeply significant that few if any of Douglas’s left-wing comrades in this country or internationally were surprised or offended by his proposals. Indeed the early fascism of 1920s Italy, while unsavoury and dictatorial, had little connection with social engineering and eugenics. The latter German version of fascism was influenced not by ultra conservatism in southern Europe but, as is made clear in the writings of the Nazi ideologues, by the Marxist left.
The most vociferous and outspoken of the socialist eugenicists was the novelist H. G. Wells, author of The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man. He argued in best-selling books such as Anticipations and A Modern Utopia that the world would collapse and from this collapse a new order should and would emerge.
“People throughout the world whose minds were adapted to the big-scale conditions of the new time. A naturally and informally organised educated class, an unprecedented sort of people.” A strict social order would be formed. At the bottom of it were the base. These were “people who had given evidence of a strong anti-social disposition”, including “the black, the brown, the swarthy, the yellow.” Christians would also “have to go” as well as the handicapped. Wells devoted entire pamphlets to the need of “preventing the birth, preventing the procreation or preventing the existence” of the mentally and physically handicapped. “This thing, this euthanasia of the weak and the sensual is possible. I have little or no doubt that in the future it will be planned and achieved.”